Company holidays seem like counterproductive anachronisms


Happy Presidents day.

Today's holiday got me thinking: Is there a compelling argument for "company holidays" at tech companies? Every company I've worked at has had a "fixed" set of company holidays along with flexible use-it-or-lose-it vacation days. But aside from historical cargo-culting, why do we do it this way?

Much ink has been spilled about the move away from tracked vacation time to "unlimited" policies, and a lot of the cynicism seems at least partially valid -- it sure does seem like employees in aggregate take less vacation overall when its "unlimited," and it does suspiciously lead to a happy coincidence that no vacation is paid out on separation. But I think the hand wringing and critiques over "unlimited" vacation misses an easy win for both modern companies and employees that is right under our noses.

Some typical US company vacation policies might be:

The more I think about it, the more these seem really sub-optimal?

As an employee, I'd rather have floating holidays than fixed days off. It's increased flexibility with no downsides. If I were a parent, I'd probably want to use them for all the federal holidays anyway (because school's out and I'd otherwise need to arrange childcare etc), and if I were an young untethered yuppie I'd maybe want to bank them so I can use them for longer (or more frequent) vacation trips.

As a manager, I'd rather have floating holidays than fixed days off. Many aspects of business continuity don't give a shit about holidays, so I still need coverage for functions like security, uptime, facilities, emergency support, etc. This is obviously easier if the entire team doesn't have automatic arbitrary coordinated days off every few weeks while simultaneously attempting to make this transparent to the outside world. People have been conditioned to expect that (for example) big financial transactions cannot occur on bank holidays. But "Sorry, our website and services are offline because it's MLK's birthday and we have no IT/security staff" is rare in startupland.

Finally, the federal holidays are arbitrary and inescapably biased. Trying to add more inclusive company holidays is fraught with unnecessary political peril. Should Diwali or Hannukah or Lunar New Year be a company holiday? Sure - you could just tell people they can take a religious or cultural holiday even if they're not official days off, but how is this fair? Isn't a company holiday more official and more sanctioned? And on the flip side, isn't it kind of unfair for some employees to get "extra" days off for an important holiday that other employees don't celebrate, in addition to fixed company holidays that might be meaningless to those same employees?

Overall I just think almost everyone is better off if many companies just convert "company" holidays into additional vacation time so that companies can offer everyone a total of say, 4 or 5 weeks off per year. It's probably not a panacea for scheduling problems, and incentives are probably still required to get enough of a skeleton crew on certain holidays (who wants to work Thanksgiving or New Years day? Not very many people!), but this seems to already be true, so it isn't any worse?

What am I missing? Are there any companies doing a version of this?